For nine months, all we had were Skype and WhatsApp to bridge the invincible time gap of 12.5 hrs that stood like a wall between us. In the excitement of seeing each other after so long, we hurriedly planned a short trip to Goa when I returned to India over summer. What I had failed to consider was the fact that two weeks prior to departing the US, I had taken my first shot of Depo-Provera and now my hormones were fucked up to the point that I was behaving like a raging maniac at the drop of a hat. I was oscillating between calm and angry every few hours. I felt bloated all the time. The fantasies that had kept me alive were replaced by technicolour dreams of how to plan the funeral of my libido. Add to that frustration, my digestive enzymes had declared a strike which meant I could hardly put any of the food I was craving for almost a year into my mouth without any fear of repercussions. Thus, after a romantic date at one of Goa’s best restaurants, we walked home except that our walk in the sea-tinged night air was anything but romantic; I was rambling inebriated and clutching my stomach, sweating profusely as we desperately searched for the nearest loo.
The night before we had had our own version of candle-light dinner in our hotel room. The original plan was to find a good restaurant and try some authentic regional food. When we looked up restaurants on Zomato, we became so indecisive we picked two places instead of one. We got some Prawn Koliwada for takeaway from Viva Panjim and while we waited, Aninda downed a feni. With its vintage heirloom furniture, the family-run eatery resembled the dining-room I had coveted all my life. In the large, wood-framed mirrors were reflections of happy patrons and sparkling chandeliers. Here and there plastered on the wall were tiles with Mario Miranda’s illustrations of Goan life. Silver cutlery clinked and glistened as the servers opened drawers. The pace was so laid-back we could spend hours there but a few kilometres away, Kokni Kanteen was already waiting for us. With the prawns in our bags and our tongues impatient, we proceeded in the flailing light of day towards Kokni Kanteen with its curated photographs of old Goa and miniature cooking sets, strings of dried chillies and garlic garnishing the brick-red walls, and best of all a chalkboard with names of local fishes in Konkani and in English. Everything on the menu sounded so delicious, we began salivating and after promising each other that we would be back the next day for lunch, we settled on a plate on chicken sukkha for takeaway. The rain clouds that had been singing ghazals all afternoon had put away their instruments. Stars were unlatching windows in the inky sky. The air smelled woodsy. Perhaps of salt-laced petrichor as we retraced our way back past shops downing shutters and men biking home. “Businesses close early here, don’t they?” I remarked. We talked at length about the pace of life in Panaji. Near The Old Quarter annexe building, Aninda bought two cans of Bira Light. We set the table: leftover pao from the morning, Chicken Sukkha, Prawn Koliwada, and chilled beer. Candles were lit and the electric lights switched off. As I sat cross-legged on the large wooden table gazing into his honest eyes, I felt a wave of calm wash over me.
Few more things can bring you closer to your partner than sharing food. The Chicken Sukkha was delicious, the beer not so much; we talked about how much we had missed each other, about how we envisioned our lives together after my graduation, how much we loved travelling and trying local dishes, how much we would love to relocate to an old Portuguese house in Fontainhas…every word, every movement of his mouth felt invigorating and imbued with the essence of home, of belongingness. Sitting in a room that we assumed was haunted, we decided to start our travel blog. I felt, deep within my bones, a sense of purpose. It felt like the true homecoming after nine long months as an alien in the USA. I must have fallen asleep somewhere in the middle of all this, so comforting was his company for when I woke up an hour later, Aninda was still at the table mopping the last of the kokum and curry leaf laced chicken sukkha with a piece of pao and rubbing his belly. I wasn’t annoyed when he belched loudly. Instead, I extended my hands towards him. His face shone with precious happiness.
I have since wondered why I remember the uncomfortable night more vividly than the one where our lives felt at peace. Is it merely a human tendency to focus on the difficult, stressful, and unhappy times so much that the real happiness blurs into something unrecognizable? Are we influenced to a greater extent by the absence of something than its presence? When I tried writing about our time in Goa, the discomfort bubbled onto the paper. As if that beautiful night, the sounds of our laughter tinkling on the glass panes of the French windows, had evaporated without any trace.
my body is a limp sac, a barnacle
clamped shut within the shape of me
tonight it’s a relic from the past,
a pomegranate flower loathe to fruit
in the city of azulejos tiles and ultramarine walls
where viscous with history, the sea
calligraphs love notes on fronds of air
my mouth is a tremble
first meal together far from home first night together
my skin tingles with fluorescence rock me closer
to the singing of your heart
my body is part-parasite welded to your ribs
struggling to carve into form
woman but not quite—
A few weeks ago, over a random conversation with a friend, I felt that I had been wrong all the time. I do not remember that terrible night more clearly because I have a penchant for pain. I remember it so vividly because I had felt loved. Never in my adult life had someone been so tender with me; never had anyone rubbed my back while I threw up like a volcano in the sink; never had someone cleaned after me. Not my parents, not anyone. It sent me spiralling into what was half self-reflection and half gratitude. To be honest, Aninda is not an expressive lover. He doesn’t architect mega-surprises full of roses and tulle for me. He doesn’t load me with cute gifts. Sometimes he can’t even find words to tell me what he feels for me. But I doubt how many can match his selflessness. I wanted to thank him but couldn’t verbally. Isn’t it strange how language abandons you when you need it the most?
We were supposed to leave for Vagator the next morning. I threw up again after breakfast. Terrible stomach cramps meant I could hardly stand steady. But we travelled. In a public bus. The air was sweet with the freshness of rain. Along the road stretched the lush landscape of Goa: broad-leaved palms, glossy fronds, mangoes, and plantain trees. We could see the black bellies of clouds as they rolled in languidly from the west. Before long, we were planning our next trip to the hinterlands of Goa. “I want to travel slowly through the length and breadth of India, relishing cultural eccentricities and delicious food,” I told him. He nodded and gently placed my head on his shoulder. At that moment, there existed no greater peace.